That Fat Girl From Atlanta
The way I saw it, it was that girl from Atlanta´s fault that I was losing my house. She oversaw all of the foreclosed government properties in Mississippi. That´s what I was trying to sell.
All she had to do was reinstate the contract that would earn me the $6700 commission I needed to catch up my mortgage and pay off the utilities
, I thought for the hundredth time as I rolled my smoking Honda Accord to a stop in the parking lot of our local Realtor´s Board office.
My car needed an oil change bad and I didn´t think Crisco would do the trick. Glancing back at my license plate, I remembered that I still hadn’t gotten my 2001 car tag. Dang. Still another darn bill I had to worry about.
I shivered in the heat, a sudden chill reminding me of the cold showers I had taken in the two months since my natural gas got disconnected.
I hate cold water unless it´s in a drinking glass but I was glad that Mississippi Power thought my mother was still alive and on a ventilator. Still my thirty-day reprieve had dwindled to ten and I hadn´t developed a Plan B yet. Running an extension cord from my neighbor´s backyard outlet, perhaps? Their summers were usually spent traveling so it´d be at least a month before they´d notice. Maybe I´d have sold a house by then.
I glanced at my gaunt face in the rear view mirror and smeared on the last of the fuchsia lipstick stuck deep in the tube. They say black people age well; they must also hide hunger well, I decide as I hop out of my car. A line of people dressed brightly for summer queued toward the entrance, most jabbering on cell phones or to each other.
If this seminar hadn´t been free, I wouldn´t be here. I hoped they had coffee and Danish. I was so hungry that the pavement looked like overcooked fatback.
The lady in front of me sipped McDonald’s coffee, which smelled so good I salivated. I simply turned my head at the sight of her sausage biscuit.
I swooned, my teeth grinding involuntarily as I tried to focus on the leaves of the tree above my head to keep from staring at her meal. But the leaves kept morphing into collard greens and I had to look away from those too. The head of the man behind me reminded me of a boneless chicken breast and I had a quick vision of me dumping hot sauce on his crown.
I turned back to the front to dream about collard greens. Losing control over that fantasy wouldn´t land me in jail. Still, in jail, I´d get to eat....
My hunger was all that girl from Atlanta´s fault, I reasoned desperately, in my food-diminished capacity.
I was going to get her for that too.
“Would you like a peppermint?” The McDonald’s lady had just tossed her cup in the trash and was digging in her purse.
“Sure,” I said, my tongue contracting in anticipation. A mere few seconds later, I was slowly sucking my breakfast. Once inside the building, my sweat-clogged body quivered in relief at the swish of air conditioning.
I nodded at a couple of fellow agents from my office and fake-smiled at the rest of the motley crowd of men and women sitting at the long tables which filled the room for the “How To Sell Government Foreclosures” training session for real estate agents in my area.
Lately, my listings had dwindled and the two buyers I had were hinting at defecting to other agents. Okay, so I really only had one client now. Zaneesha, my last one, got mad when I borrowed gas money to show her a couple of houses. I´m going to pay her back. One day. When my checking account is on the plus side. That heifer. Got $100,000 dreams on a $46,000 budget.
I scanned the registration table for food, swallowing my disappointment when I saw none. I signed in, grabbed a name tag and sashayed past the rows of tables semi-filled with people, choosing to sit next to Katy Marie “We Sell Anything (including porn on the Web)” Morris. Word was she had traded her Benz up to a 320 and her husband´s upgrade was to a SUV, the Toyota Sequoia, I believe; I heard their dog had a two-story miniature house with heat and air. She smiled at me and went back to her conversation.
My husband had left me three months ago and despite my pleas and offers to do those nasty things he liked--thank God for mouthwash-- he hadn´t come back. He had promised to pay the mortgage but I guess that girl he met at the Beau Rivage needed more than thongs and pantyhose to live on. She was so skinny a thong looked like a diaper on her.
That wasn´t exactly that girl from Atlanta´s fault but I could find a way to blame her if I thought hard enough. I envisioned her as fat with an ugly husband and a thousand kids. Why did I think that? No real reason. I just decided that she had to be.
“We´d like to welcome the team from Atlanta,” said Mitzi Baker, president of our local Realtor´s group. The hum of conversations around the chilly, window-less room faded into a silence broken only by the air conditioning kicking in again.
I glanced up and saw only the flap of my big straw hat, a jaunty number with a ribbon that matched my lime green linen dress with short matching jacket and open-toed sandals.
Even my toenails matched my outfit but not my mood which was dark underneath my outwardly sunny smile and bright eyes. I felt overdressed but I had learned to hide my woes behind color and hats.
My house would soon be one of these foreclosures if I didn´t come up with some money fast. I could ask my daddy but he had already helped me too much. I didn’t have any other family.
“And, this is Sindi Forrest Walker.” My heart jumped as that black girl from Atlanta´s name echoed inside my head. Hmph. She would have the same maiden name I had.
I couldn´t look at her yet. I still had to decide how to hurt her as much as she had me. It was all her fault, had to be. I´d have to see her first, though, to ferret out any potential weak spots. Throwing her in a dark room with no food would take too long.
“I´d like to thank you all for coming,” I heard her say in a familiar voice. I still wasn´t ready to look at her yet so I stared down at the information packets distributed at registration.
The gasps that tittered around the room made me glance up for the source of the humor. What felt like a million eyes stared back at me and my mind flitted back over my entrance but couldn’t recall doing anything attention-grabbing.
The scrutiny unnerved me so I pretended to look for my cell phone, knowing that it wasn´t in my purse and that it wasn´t connected any more anyway.
“Oh, my God,” Katy Marie said, drawing the Almighty´s name out into two syllables. “Why . . . you look just like . . . . her!” She poked my arm.
“What are you talking about?” I asked, wondering how long she had had to stay in the tanning bed to get her finger so dark. Staring at her finger reminded me of a burnt hot dog….
My gaze followed the end of her finger, noting that her diamond was at least two carats larger than mine, until I looked toward the front of the room and saw myself staring back at me.
Myself staring back at me? I shook my head to clear it. “You look just like. . . . . .” I felt my face and neck. Oh Lord. I´m so broke and hungry, I´m hallucinating. Oh Jesus.
“What in the world?” my look-a-like gasped, walking slowly toward me. She wasn´t fat at all. In fact, she was kind of shapely---just like me. “Who are you? Where are you from? What is this all about?” she demanded.
“Sounds like somebody´s got some skeletons to snatch out of the closet,” Katy Marie quipped.
Mitzi stood up to control the crowd. “Now, everyone let´s just calm down. I´m sure there´s an explanation for this. We´ll take a five-minute break to regroup and re-start the meeting. “Sindi? Sierra? Let´s step outside a moment.”
Mitzi had to pull me outside. I couldn´t process Sindi looking like me and walk at the same time. When I knew anything, I was sitting on a cement garden bench trying to understand why someone who looked identical to me was sitting in front of me and she wasn´t my sister.
“Okay, this is a real shock,” Sindi started. “I´m an only child. So I know you can´t be related to me.”
“I´m the only girl in my family and we don´t have relatives in Atlanta,” I snapped back.
“How old are you?” Mitzi asked.
“Thirty-three,” we both chorused.
“When´s your birthday?”
“August 18, 1970,” we both answered.
I said, “Now, wait a minute, I don´t know who you think you are but I don´t appreciate this stunt.”
“Stunt?” Sindi spat. “No, you´re the one playing games.”
Her head cocked to the side, Mitzi stared at us as if we were Elvis back from the grave. “What´s your favorite food?” she asked.
Sindi and I both said, “Corn on the cob.” We stared at each other, both raising our left eyebrow at the same time.
It freaked me out, I have to say. She looked just like me, down to the mole under my left eye. Somebody had some explaining to do.
“Who are your parents?” The glint in Mitzi´s eyes told me she was enjoying this too much.
Sindi and I answered, “John and Gale Forrest.”
I added, “But my mother died when I was three.”
Sindi said, “But my father died when I was three.”
“No, my father is not dead,” I said.
Sindi said, at the same time, “No, my mother is not dead.”
Mitzi exclaimed, “Oh, my goodness. I´ll bet this is one of those Parent Trap things. You know, that movie? My grandkids watch it all the time. That Dennis Quaid is so adorable.”
I said, slowly, “You mean where one parent took one child and the other took the other? My dad would never do that to me.”
Sindi said, “And neither would my mother.”
Mitzi said wisely, “Well, somebody did something to somebody. ‘Cause ya´ll look exactly alike. I´ll leave you alone to talk.”
She walked back into the meeting.
My twin and I stared at each other a moment, not speaking, our minds full of questions with few answers.
She said suddenly, whipping her cell phone out of her pocket, “I´m calling my mother.” She speed-dialed a number. “Hello, mama? Sindi. Yes, we made it to Mississippi okay. But, mama? I have a question to ask you and you have to tell me the truth. Do I have a twin?”
I couldn´t hear “Mama´s” response.
“Mama, don´t play games with me,” Sindi said. “I´m here with a woman who looks just like me, is my same age, and loves corn on the cob. Am I a twin?”
Sindi´s shoulders slumped. “I don´t believe this. How could you not tell me? Sierra? How´d you know her name?”
She glanced at me. “Is that your name?”
“Yes,” I answered softly, wishing my cell phone were connected so I could call my dad. I watched Sindi, mesmerized.
My mother? Faceless, she had haunted my dreams, blurry and grainy like the one photo I had of her. Now she was as close as the phone. Did I look like her?
Had she ever wondered about me? Wanted to call me? Touch me? No wonder we moved so much, my dad and I. But never to Atlanta. Never to the place where I always wanted to live for reasons couldn’t I explain.
My dad and I settled in Gulfport my sophomore year in high school and I had stayed here ever since--gotten married, cheated on and left--but mercifully hadn´t had any kids.
“Sierra Huggins?” Sindi’s voice cut into my thoughts. “Wait. Aren´t-- - you the one who threatened me? “She slid around the bench, her soft brown eyes a cross between worry and challenge. “No, Mama. She´s not trying to beat me up. Mama. No. You don´t have to call 911. I´m fine.” Sindi shook her head. “But Mama. I have a thousand questions. How could you not tell me this?” Sindi sighed deeply. “Please, Mama, don´t cry. No, I´m not judging you. I´m not. Really.”
Sindi´s eyes suddenly flit to my face. “What? She . . . . she wants to talk to you.”
Suddenly, I´m crying. I hold the phone, bracing myself for my mother´s voice.
Sindi said, “Uh, hate to rush you and all but this is long distance,” sounding like our cheap dad.
“Sorry,” I half-giggled, half-sobbed. “Hello?”
My mother´s voice sounded smooth and sweet like just ripe peaches. “Sierra, baby. I´m sorry you had to find out like this. So sorry. How have you been? Your wedding pictures were so beautiful. I´m sorry it didn´t work out.”
“My wedding pictures. What?”
My mother cut me off. “Your father and I have always kept up with both of you. I have a ton of pictures and even a video of your wedding. It was the pact that we made with each other.”
“Well, why didn´t you try to contact me? And why did you let Sindi come here knowing she could possibly run into me? Didn´t you know I was a realtor? And what kind of name is Sindi? Black people don´t name their kids stuff like that. “
“Just like your sister, I see,” my mother sighed. “A thousand questions a second. Let´s see. I knew you lived there. But what were the chances of you running into Sindi? She´s never even been to Mississippi. But I have missed you so much for the past thirty years. I understand if you hate me. I deserve that. But just know that I loved you all this time. I only gave you up because your father loved you too. Both of you. We just decided that even if we couldn´t make it together, we couldn´t make it without one of you. I hope you´ll understand and maybe even forgive me one day.”
“Oh, Mama,” I sobbed. “I´ve always wanted to say that word. I mean, dad re-married but I call his wife by her first name.”
“You´re welcome to call me Mama, Mom, whatever you want to darling,” my mother sobbed into the phone. “Just so you don´t cuss me, now. I want to see you. Come back with Sindi.”
“I can´t,” I said. “My husband . . . well, you know he left me and I refuse to ask daddy for anything.”
“I´ll make sure you have a ticket waiting at the airport,” my mother interrupted. “Just pack your bags and come home to your mama.”
“You think I´m going to just hop on a plane to fly to Atlanta to see some strangers I never knew existed thirty minutes ago?” I tsked into the phone.
My mother got silent.
“Yes, you´re right,” she said. “It doesn´t make sense. But it doesn´t have to. After all, this is life and you have to take it as it comes. Tell you what. I´ll upgrade your ticket to first-class.”
I thought about the empty house waiting for me with a mailbox full of letters from my mortgage company, cut-off notices for every utility I had ever thought about having, and the half loaf of bread reigning regally and alone in my fridge.
“I´ll be packed and ready in an hour,” I said, adding, “You still have a ton of explaining to do. This isn´t a thirty-minute sitcom where the problems are solved between commercials.”
“Sierra, honey, tell me something I don´t know. You have an identical twin, remember? Blah, blah, blah. Been there, done that. Just come on home to Mama, honey.”
* * *
I moved to Atlanta later that year. My daddy and his wife flew out and my mother and her husband and my sister and I all had a big powwow that ended with us forgiving each other and deciding to move on.
I love Atlanta. It´s great being near my mama who´s already summed up why my marriage failed and is constantly trying to hook me up with the men who come into her bakery. One of the guys is actually kind of cute and well. . . . . . We’ll have to see what the future holds.
I don´t sell real estate anymore. Turns out my mama is a real live entrepreneur, complete with rental houses and other commercial properties that she needed someone to manage for her. She had tried to turn it over to my twin but she hates dealing with tenants and stuff. I love it and those Section 8 folks know I will kick them out if they so much as think about parking a car on the grass.
As for my house back in Gulfport, my mom made its purchase her first venture into real estate outside of Georgia. We call it our get-away spot since it´s close to Biloxi.
I still fly home sometimes when I need a break from Atlanta traffic. My ex-husband married that Beau Rivage girl and somehow they managed to have an Asian baby. Kind of hard to do since my husband´s black and his wife is white.
And as for that girl from Atlanta who turned out to be my sister? Well, she really is fat, now, from being eight months pregnant.
I´m going to be an auntie!
I told her once about how I was going to kick her butt at the meeting. She listened to the story and laughed so hard she peed on herself.
“It´s not that funny,” I said.
“Girl, yes it is!” she managed to say between breaths. “Cause that´s just what I would have done too!”